Class Says Collector Lacked Authority

     (CN) – An Alabama town’s private court collections firm made threats outside its authority and caused indigent citizens to be jailed, a class action lawsuit claims.
     Dana Carden sued the Town of Harpersville, Ala. on behalf of herself and similarly-situated individuals. The complaint alleges constitutional violations including due process denial, unreasonable seizure, excessive fines and denial of equal protection.
     The town hired Judicial Correction Services to collect court fines and fees for its municipal court, according to the complaint. Under its contract with Harpersville, JCS allegedly placed people on probation if they were unable to pay court fines or costs and issued arrest warrants for those who could not keep up with payments.
     JCS employees dressed like state authority figures and wore badges, the lawsuit states. The company is also accused of arbitrarily setting fines and fees.
     “This public ruse was maintained by Harpersville for purposes of imposing and collecting fines and costs from citizens such as the plaintiff, and was accomplished by allowing JCS to control the money, determine how much each municipal court ‘offender’ must pay each month, how much would be credited for each payment to the collection ‘services’ of JCS each month, and how much it would rebate to Harpersville toward the fines adjudged,” the complaint states.
     Carden, a Sylacauga, Ala. resident, says she was given three traffic citations in 2007 but the ticket did not have a court date and she did not receive a letter advising her of a date.
     Three years later, she was riding in a car that was stopped by a roadblock and an officer ran her name. Three outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court showed up and Carden was arrested, according to the complaint.
     Carden was unable to post a $1,400 bond and was jailed for 19 days despite being indigent and unable to pay, she claims.
     “The plaintiff and some class members were imprisoned, and some repeatedly, under these policies of Harpersville for their failure to pay fines, costs and the added fees mandated by the illegal contract between Harpersville and JCS,” the complaint states. “The plaintiff was not given a hearing or consideration of her indigency before being jailed, nor was she provided notice of charges, a hearing on charges levied that might result in imprisonment, or provided assistance of counsel before being imprisoned.”
     The lawsuit claims the delegation of administrative and judicial functions to a private company is against the law.
     “Despite the lack of authority to do so, Harpersville allowed JCS to use threats of revoking probation, arrest, increased fines and costs and jail time for purposes of collection,” the complaint states.
     The Harpersville Municipal Court was dissolved through a 2012 city council decision after an investigation. However, the town has not reimbursed citizens for illegal fees or wrongful imprisonment, the class action alleges.
     The class seeks punitive damages and a court declaration that the JCS contract is void. It is represented by G. Daniel Evans in Birmingham, Ala.

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